Western business has lusted after the Chinese consumer market for hundreds of years. The dream of a billion or two Chinese consumers buying one’s products is as intoxicating today as when British textile makers yearned for the Chinese to keep their mills humming forever, but until recently the Chinese consumer market existed more in their dreams than in reality.
Today, the dream is reality, but in a country where every decision is political and whose rulers have weaponized its trade and economic policies, the dream has a dark side. Chinese consumers are buying cars, taking vacations abroad and spending like Western entrepreneurs of an earlier age dreamed. Today, Western businesses are coining money even though to maintain access to the Chinese market many of them are being forced by the Communist government to carry Beijing’s political water. It’s a devil’s bargain, but one too many Western companies are making it in exchange for the profits they make in China.
Beijing is using Western greed to get Western business do its bidding. The lengths to which some will go to maintain a foothold in China are mind-boggling. They are partnering with Chinese companies, surrendering trade secrets and technology while vying with each other to comply with regulations that make them co-conspirators in Beijing’s efforts to perpetuate totalitarian control over the Chinese people and advance Beijing’s global agenda regardless of the interests of their home countries.
Earlier this year, German automaker Mercedes-Benz was forced to abjectly apologize to Beijing’s Communist rulers for innocently quoting the Dali Lama in an Internet advertisement. The Chinese government’s hatred of the Dali Lama spurred what it claimed was popular outrage against the German automaker and demanded that Mercedes never again even acknowledge the Dali Lama’s existence. The Communist Peoples’ Daily labeled Mercedes an “enemy of the people.” Mercedes officials quickly kowtowed to keep their share of the growing Chinese auto market and one bets they will endeavor to never again offend Beijing’s keen-eyed rulers.
For more than 70 years, the Chinese Communist regime has lusted after the small island to which Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces fled as the Communists secured control of mainland China. Beijing’s position is simple enough they want control of Taiwan and intend to take it peacefully or by force.
Taiwan or the Republic of China on Taiwan has not only survived, but prospered. Its 23 million citizens live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world and have turned the once poor, agricultural island into a first world democracy. Their own determination combined with steadfast support from the United States has kept Beijing at bay over the years, but both are facing a newly determined Chinese threat from an expansionist Communist regime in Beijing headed by President-for-Life Xi Jinping.
Taiwan is already surrounded by Chinese missiles, and Beijing rattles its nuclear and conventional sabers at them periodically while doing everything it can to isolate Taiwan and force other governments to recognize its claims over the island.
Also, China keeps Taiwan out of international bodies, refuses to deal with nations that recognize it and are now using their economic power to force those who do business with the mainland to refuse to refer to Taiwan in any way other than as “a part of China.”
Thus, earlier this year Beijing went after the Marriott Hotels and dozens of international airlines for not doing so. Marriott was listing its hotel in Taiwan’s capital as “Taipei, Taiwan.” So too had most airlines, but Beijing demanded they all stop. They set a deadline and some airline carriers capitulated quickly while others balked. The White House denounced the attempt to force private U.S. carriers to parrot Beijing’s line as “Orwellian nonsense,” but the Communists threatened retribution and when the smoke cleared got most of what it demanded.
This may seem insignificant, but it is not; the Communists in Beijing seem determined to pursue what Xi Jinping calls the “Chinese Dream,” which includes gobbling up Taiwan. He is working assiduously to maximize diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan’s traditional allies to isolate the island democracy. Taiwan exists today as a free and independent nation because of U.S. support, which also helps keep Beijing from dominating the region.
China’s economic growth is dependent on Beijing’s continued access to the U.S. market, a fact giving the United States far more leverage in dealing with China than most appreciate. While Mr. Trump is threatening a trade war with Beijing to save American jobs, he should also recognize that the threat might be just as effective in getting Beijing to back away from its newly aggressive economic and diplomatic attempts to build islands out of nothing in the South China Sea, threaten to take islands from its neighbor and force Taiwan into a corner.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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